Anti-whaling activists leave Antarctica to refuel

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Hardline anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd said it has been forced to temporarily abandon its pursuit of Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic while its ship refuels.

Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, aboard their ship the Steve Irwin, come close to the Japanese ship Kaiko Maru near Antarctica in this recent photo from December 26, 2008. REUTERS/The Institute of Cetacean Research/Handout

Paul Watson, the founder of the U.S. based group, said in a statement posted on the group’s website ( its ship the Steve Irwin would refuel at the nearest available port and then return to the pursuit.

He said the two-week operation in the Southern Ocean had been a success as the number of whales killed by the Japanese had fallen.

Japan’s whaling fleet is in the Antarctic for an annual hunt to capture 900 whales. Despite an international moratorium on whaling since 1986, Japan justifies the hunt on the grounds this whaling is for “scientific” purposes.

Much of the meat ends up on supermarket shelves and dinner tables.

“We have engaged them, we have stopped their whaling activities for two weeks and we have successfully chased them out of the Australian Antarctic territorial waters,” Watson said in the statement Friday.

“We now have to return to land to refuel. We don’t have the luxury of refueling at sea like the Japanese fleet has.”

Sea Shepherd said that it had pursued the Japanese fleet for two weeks and driven it out of waters Australia claims around its Antarctic territory.

The Japanese say they are in international waters.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the annual hunt, has accused Sea Shepherd of “eco-terrorism,” and of ramming and endangering Japanese vessels, allegations Watson rejects.